To a child, the words “be quiet” are subjective. That is, the interpretation of the words often vary from a parent’s definition.   When a parent says, “BE QUIET!” they are really saying, “Please, can you use a soft voice.”  However, the interpretation of “be quiet” to a two-year-old boy, for example, is to speak loudly instead of very loudly.   The funny thing is, these two words, when spoken by a parent, are usually said like this: “BE QUIET!!!!!”  This is opposite to the decible you are asking the child to emulate.

Instead, I like to use the word whisper, and I say it in a small soft voice. I say it like this: “Shhhh, whisper.”  Whisper is an active word that leaves little interpretation for a child.

So next time you are about to say, “BE QUIET!” try saying, “Whisper,” instead. It only takes a few reminders for a child to get the whisper concept.

Note: This is another example of being proactive rather than reactive.  Read my post here.

Another note: I wish I would known this when first had a child.  It’s taken me quiet a few children to get this concept so learn from my mistake.

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Kelly loves life at both ends of the spectrum: wearing high heel shoes one day and hiking boots the next; sipping tea out of a pretty cup and slurping hot coffee from a camping mug; challenging herself physically and stopping for quiet unhurried moments to feel the wind on her face. Kelly and her husband Matthew seek to live a fun and adventurous life with their four children and pet bird.

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  1. says

    Ooh I like that! I tend to use ‘Inside Voices’ when in a setting. But I like the idea of saying ‘Whisper’ in a whispered tone. Will try it out when I do the internship!

  2. says

    I tend to say ‘Inside Voice’ as well, but that can also be a bit ambiguous. And yes, I’m guilty of “BE QUIET!!!” Which totally defeats the purpose of asking the children to be quiet. Great idea to use ‘whisper’. (Actually, I might be using that one a lot today!)

  3. Alissa says

    Someone commented to me the other day how interesting it was that my entire family all say “that’s an outside noise” followed up with “voice down please”. I guess some things just get “ingrained”… but I really like “whisper”… will have to try and remember that one! Thanks Kelly.

  4. says

    Generally…not always… my chidlren keep their voices at an ok level inside because I’ve always said… ‘shhh little voices inside please.’
    I remember learning very early in my parenting that to tell the child what is expected rather than what you don’t want is a better way to do it.
    hence… shh whisper please will always work better than Be quiet.
    Love that you’ve brought this back into my thoughts.

  5. says

    Ohh i am definitely going to be writing these down for when i have kiddies 😛

    No seriously, that is a super smart idea. You could be an australian super nanny :) Or super mummy :)

    Hope your having a great long weekend..

    K xx :)

  6. says

    It’s always great to be diplomatic and sensitive, and I like the wisdom of your post. Most of the time I’m trying to walk that path too. When I mess up however, I reason with myself that life is a mixed bag, and kids will have to learn that there are times when they’ve got to understand what you mean as opposed to what you’ve said. Young kids that are too literal sometimes drive me nuts! :-)

    BTW – Kels, you not only can be an Australian super mummy, you can also think of becoming a SuperParent!!! 😉

    Okay, I’ll keep quiet now.



    • says

      I like the balance you have brought to this Colin. Tis true that children need to learn how to ‘read’ into things (that may have to be another post). When I was chatting to my 9 year-old daughter (she asked me to read this post to her) we were saying that, of course, at her age she didn’t need that sort of clarification; however, for my four-year-old and two-year old It’s very effective.

      HA! I’m not a super Mum for sure. I’m just your average Mum doing the best I can (aren’t we all?). Because I believe Motherhood has value, it’s something I’m putting a lot of mental energy into. You seem to be doing the same Colin.

      • says

        @Kelly Be A Fun Mum,

        I’m talking with Deborah from Preschool Professional and was discussing with her the effects of certain terms or words used on children and their ability to learn, and the respective roles of parents and teachers. I suppose it’s better to err on the side of gentleness and diplomacy. I would of course encourage the eventual broadening of a child’s exposure to the richness of verbal (and non verbal) communication in time. For instance, my two god children have parents who are highly conservatively; therefore I take it as my role in life to joke, tease, tickle, and chastise them frequently. It adds to their ability to deal with different people and to understand the context of the words. :-)



  7. says

    Someone told me once that by loudly saying “Don’t RUN ACROSS THE ROAD”, we make our kids hear “.. run across the road”. I don’t know how true it is, but I really like what you’re saying here about proactive vs reactive. It’s tempting to just react, but being proactive takes some thought until it becomes a habit.

    • says

      That’s interesting Susan. Because I beleive in the value of Motherhood, it’s something I’m willing to invest a lot of mental space in. I’m not quite at the ‘habit’ stage yet lol. But I’m certianly trying.

  8. says

    It’s so much easier to yell “quiet” than whisper “whisper,” isn’t it? It’s so much easier to raise our voices period than think of more effective, more thoughtful ways of influencing our children’s behavior. In my most effective whispering voice I say, “Thanks for the reminder.” =>

  9. says

    I am definitely a “whisper sweetie” kinda mama although when that doesn’t work I move to the finger over my lips and when that doesn’t work my eyes go buggy and I say through clenched teeth: bring your voice down NOW
    But in my son’s defense, the first one often works.

    • says

      Good on you Alex! I too, find it works first time… mostly. I love the finger of the lips. Just this morning, I visited my sister in hospital with my two year old son. Whenever we walk into the ward he puts his finger over his lips and whispers, “Shhhhh.” He does it out of his own volition; It’s so cute.

      I’m off now to pop over to your blog. See you there!

  10. says

    so true. I am at the moment watching my voice level. With 3 boys under 4 it can get noisy and I tend to have to raise my voice to get them to do anything, but this week my challenge has been to do things and speak like my dear late Aunty who was always so gently and softly spoken. I have not raised my voice at all in 3 days and am very proud of myself, and the bonus is that the boys are quieter too. They still get noisy, but I am noticing a huge difference in their level of play and talking noise. I also used to work in childcare for 10 years, and I still say some things that I said at work like ‘quiet voices inside’ and ‘walking feet inside’ – funny thing is that my oldest boys are copying that during the day and their play. It makes you very aware of what you are saying to them.

    • says

      WOW! 3 days, good going. I’m always amazed at the parents who always talk quietly. I come from a big, fun and loud family. I love this; however, sometimes we just end up yelling over the top of eachother to our children lol. I think: there has to be a better way.

      Keep on keeping on and let me know how you go.

        • says

          @The Original SuperParent, That was interesting to read and so true. When I was working, the majority of my years was with under 2’s, and I usually made it a rule that during group time my assistant sat with the children, usually one or two on her lap :) This I found helped this age group as there was no other distraction by her doing odd jobs (of course, sometimes this was necessary, but I tried to minimise it) and she could whisper or tap on a shoulder to keep their attention. I can see how it would work well with the older age groups.

          • says

            @Kathryn Rodda, I think the ‘one voice’ concept works well for older kids. I remember many instances where it was way easier guiding a group of children as opposed to just one or two children: on group camps, my son’s birthday party, etc. At periods where I’ve got to dig deep, I look to my memories of my Army instructors and draw inspiration from them. It’s not all about volume, but speaking clearly and providing them good positive direction. It’s when you try to bend them to your will negatively … that’s when it becomes much harder to control them. Colin

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